Election 2008

Alexandria Sheriff's Office/AP
Rep. Vito Fossella R-N.Y. after his DWI

Candidates in Alaska, N.Y., La. Seek Second Act Amid Controversy

September 19, 2008 12:50 PM
by Christopher Coats
New York Congressman Vito Fossella has announced that he will join a growing number of American politicians seeking re-election this year despite arrests, investigations and indictments.

Fossella Announces Return

Recent reports have suggested that embattled Staten Island Congressman Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., who was arrested earlier this year for driving under the influence and was later revealed to have fathered a child with his mistress, will attempt to seek re-election as an independent later this year.

News of Fossella’s return
comes after a number of incumbents have announced that they will continue campaigning despite ongoing investigations into wrongdoing from Alaska to Louisiana.

Although Fossella’s charges do not stem from his position as a congressman, other candidates have been reprimanded or charged for crimes directly connected to their work in the U.S. Congress and Senate.

Further north, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young both won their respective primary contests despite facing an array of corruption charges stemming from their relationships with energy companies in the oil rich state.

Stevens, the country’s longest-serving Republican senator, faces seven counts of corruption surrounding a series of gifts he received from oil services representatives; Young faces similar charges for his ties to the VECO oil company.

The national spotlight on the two Alaska congressmen and their re-election bids has brightened with the introduction of the state’s governor, Sarah Palin, to the Republican national ticket, and her involvement in a political action committee supporting Stevens.

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana has yet to remove himself from November’s ballot despite 16 federal counts of corruption related to charges of soliciting bribes and racketeering. Facing a crowded field of Democratic contenders in the state’s October primary, Jefferson could potentially make it to the national ballot if Louisiana voters overlook his indictment like those in Alaska did for Stevens and Young.

Unlike Fossella, Alaska’s Stevens and Young and Louisiana’s Jefferson could all face time in federal prison for their crimes if found guilty, leaving their seats vacant.

Background: A legacy of sticking with it

Should Fossella officially announce his intent to run as an Independent, he would join a long line of politicians who have sidestepped controversy and investigations in pursuit of re-election. Most politicians facing scrutiny for alleged wrongdoing step aside for the sake of their respective parties, as Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, notably did in 2006 months after being indicted on charges of illegal fundraising. But elected officials on both sides of the aisle have put faith in the electorate to look past or ignore their alleged misdeeds to give them another chance in office, and sometimes it works.

In October 1974, Rep. Wilbur Mills, D-Ark., was famously caught in an aide-driven car in Washington, D.C., intoxicated and in the company of an Argentine stripper better known as Fannie Foxe. Mills was married at the time. Despite the event, Mills sought re-election and emerged victorious a month later.

Related Topics: Quitting not always the answer

However, history has also shown that not all investigations or even indictments necessarily equate guilt. Further, investigations themselves have, on occasion, been found to have been misused as a political tool.

In 2006, an investigation found that Justice Department officials dismissed a number of U.S. Federal Attorneys because the attorneys had not pursued investigations into Democratic political candidates during the election season that would have made winning all the more difficult.

Opinion & Analysis: 20 most corrupt congressmen

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington recently released a list of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress. Many—but not all—on the list are officially under investigation. With the entire House of Representatives and nearly half of the Senate up for re-election in 2008, a number of incumbents will be campaigning with questionable records.

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